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Shoryuken THIS, Ryu!

As gamers, we have our own mythology. You know who Robin Hood is? Sure, everyone knows who Robin Hood is. You know who Wolverine is? That’ll be your comic book mythology, which has bled pretty well into the mainstream of late. But would you recognise Heihachi Mishima if he got onto the same bus as you? If you went to a fancy dress party and there were two guys there dressed as Ryu and Ken, would you immediately understand the reference?

Chances are, you would. Because you’re reading this review, so you’re probably a gamer of some variety. And you don’t really need to be more than ankle-deep in gamer culture in order to have some experience of the two graddaddies of the beat ‘em’ up genre, Tekken and Street Fighter.

Both games have been through more variations, re-stylings and reiterations than Madonna’s wardrobe, yet both remain true to certain distinct gaming experiences. Street Fighter, the elder of the two franchises, has always been about fireballs and flashy long range attacks, frankly ridiculous twizzly spinny attacks and a 2-D arena, not to mention plenty of attacks that require a rolling motion on the joypad. Tekken prefers really heavy-feeling hits, a 3-D arena in which opponents can sidestep around one another, and attacks built heavily around, for example, a 'forward-forward-punch' type of style.

So Street Fighter x Tekken. Two things that immediately jump out. Firstly, this is the one and only way to play as a Tekken character on the PC, as all of the other Tekken games have been console-only affairs. Secondly, this is Tekken re-imagined as Street Fighter.

Let me explain. There are two games in this series, the current Street Fighter x Tekken, and the forthcoming Tekken x Street Fighter. This first game takes characters from both franchises and pits them against one another in the style of Street Fighter, whereas the next game (which is tipped to be console-only) will play more like Tekken. Therefore, if you’re looking for Tekken, I’m afraid this isn’t it.

Playing SFxT as Ryu or Ken, let’s say, will feel familiar to any long time Street Fighter. Ha-Do-Kens, Sho-Ryu-Kens and that unpronounceable stupid spinning kick are all pulled off in the time-honoured Street Fighter way. Play as Paul Phoenix or Heihachi, though, and it’s a different matter. Their actual attacks are all the same as the ones you know and love from Tekken, but the controls are all different. If you’ve dedicated unwholesome amounts of your youth to playing Tekken, you’ll have to ‘un-learn’ all the moves in order to start from scratch.

The Tekken-style tag-team pairing style is the norm for SFxT, and a there are a bunch of flashy and ludicrous tag combos to master (Heihachi bashes his enemy across the screen to Kuma, who traps them between his legs and guffs in their face, for one particularly memorable example). There are ‘gems’ to socket in your fighters that power up in a certain way based on your preferred fighting style (maybe after a certain number of combos, or special moves, or after getting hit a certain number of times if your preferred fighting style is ‘always losing’). These gems might increase the damage you deal, or charge up your rage meter, or any number of other tweaks.

You’ve got to love the gleefully OTT gibberish they pass off as storyline in beat ‘em ups. In a game where a yoga master can put a grizzly bear in a headlock, it’s not that surprising that the story to SFxT is as ridiculous as any other. A giant space macguffin has come crashing down in the Antarctic, and therefore everyone in fighting game land decides to smash each other’s heads in. That’s it, basically.

Let’s back up to where I was talking about the shared mythology of gaming. You can tell a person’s age by what characters they’d expect to see in a fighting game, and I certainly felt outraged that there was no Blanka or Bryan Fury, and alarmed and scared at the sight of newer characters I didn’t recognise. Also, I was really looking forward to the tsunami of slapped flesh that would be a Ganryu vs. E. Honda showdown. But no! There’s not a sumo in sight.

Well, that’s not exactly true. The frenzied backgrounds contain cameos from pretty much every character not directly involved in the action itself. Both of the aforementioned sumos are in there, as well as many others, and trying to spot them is all part of the fun.

Street Fighter x Tekken is obviously a console game. A joypad is practically required for any kind of competitive chance, and the music and visuals are as consoley as any game I’ve played on the PC. Here, of course, you would actually WANT this game to be as faithful a console port as possible because, hey, it’s Street Fighter and Tekken. I felt that perhaps there’s a performance ceiling, particularly graphically, that is a grim consequence of this console faithfulness, but it’d be a bit much to expect any hardcore PC optimisation. Personally, I’m surprised and pleased that this game even got a PC release at all.

There’s also a DLC option, so who knows? Perhaps other classic characters will be introduced in the future. Street Fighter x Tekken will certainly appeal more to Street Fighter aficionados than to Tekken purists, but the fraught, silly brashness of the thing makes it fun to play, but with the never-ending learning curve you’d expect from a modern beat ‘em up. Playing online is frustrating for two reasons: Firstly, connectivity is a little shaky at the moment, and you can wait forever for the matchmaker to assign you an opponent. Secondly, everyone seems to be incredibly good! Double-perfects by energy drink fuelled eleven year olds is alarmingly common, so be prepared. Online games can be matched against computers with similar performance levels – Street Fighter x Tekken gave the Chillaxe an ‘A’ rating, which was nice.

It’s not exactly the game you’d use to showcase the PC’s superiority over consoles, but that kind of chin-stroking snobbery has no place in the ridiculous world of the Streetfighting Tekkenverse. SFxT is good, honest two-fisted fun, with a deceptively complex system propping it up.

Sometimes it can be a little confusing as to what is actually happening.